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Former Ambassador Paul Bremer Speaks at Beloit on the Loss of the Liberal World Order

On Mon., Oct. 28 Beloit College’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted American diplomat Paul Bremer in Wilson Theater. The lecture was attended by approximately fifty students, faculty, and staff. Bremer spoke for twenty minutes, and answered forty minutes of questions from the audience. Backpacks were not allowed inside the venue, and there were approximately four Beloit Police officers standing by the entrance to Mayer Hall, as well as three Security officers inside the theater guarding the stage. This policy was most likely the result of former protests at YAF-sponsored events, including the Erik Prince talk in the spring semester, and protestors who organized outside of Eaton Chapel during Dick Cheney’s visit in October. 

Bremer served as Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan and was both Ambassador-at-large for Counterterrorism and Coordinator for Counterterrorism for the United States in 1986. After ten years in the private sector Bremer was appointed Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism and was later promoted to Presidential Envoy to Iraq by President George W. Bush following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bremer then assumed the title of Director of the Coalition Provisional Authority and Interim President of Iraq until June 2004, after which time the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred authority to the Interim Government of Iraq. 

Following his return to the United States, Bremer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush. In 2007 Bremer was questioned by a congressional committee concerning $8.8 billion missing from Iraqi sums. Bremer is also the author of a 2006 memoir titled My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. 

The talk in Wilson Theater began at 7:33 p.m. with an introduction by YAF Vice President Will Peterson. Peterson listed the other prominent speakers YAF has invited in the past year, including John Ashcroft, Erik Prince, and Dick Cheney, and said Bremer spent his time in Iraq as “work[ing] tirelessly for the goal of a free and democratic Iraq.”

Bremer took the stage and began by listing the “three main points” he wanted the audience to remember from the lecture concerning the “breakdown of free society and the liberal world order.” He said that the United States needs “a new spurt of American leadership” and that we have “taken for granted the liberal world order led by America.” This world order, Bremer said, “does not have to be liberal,” but our current world order “dates back to the British in the 1830s… [and] this world order effectively accepts concepts like democratic elections, an independent judiciary, and free trade.” Bremer stated that the “American-led world order has been a spectacular success,” citing an exponential increase in world GDP, but continued on to say that “there are signs America is tired.” 

Bremer cited a 2013 Pew poll that concluded that 57 percent of American people believe that the United States “should mind its own business” and asked the audience, “What is our own business? If we’re not going to be the policemen of the world, who is?” Bremer’s answer was one of “three alternative homogenic powers: Russia, China and Europe” and he emphasized that “none of these [powers] are liberal.”

“China and Russia have formed a comprehensive strategic partnership to counteract America,” Bremer said. “And Europe these days seems to be unwilling or unable to protect its own borders.” Bremer referred to a world without a homogenic power as “multi-polar” and warned that “a multi-polar world always leads to war.” 

The threats to the United States losing its power in the liberal world order, according to Bremer, include the spread of both nuclear weapons and authoritarian regimes. Bremer denounced an international body such as the United Nations as a viable option for a homogenic power, saying that “to me, this is the least stable option […] nations will not simply hand over the maintenance of the world order.” 

Bremer listed three requirements for the United States in order to “assert leadership,” including the need “to restore Western coherence, demonstrate coherent American leadership… and more commitment and engagement.” Bremer ended his twenty-minute lecture with a statement by former US Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton: “America is the indispensable nation.” 

Following the lecture, the floor was opened up to the audience, who could line up in either aisle in order to ask questions using two microphones held by YAF members. Students in attendance asked questions for a period of around forty minutes, which included references to the protests in Hong Kong, allusions to Central Europe made in Bremer’s speech, and the United States’ current policy on Taiwan.  

During the Q&A, Bremer was asked about the decree from the Coalition Provisional Authority that banned the Ba’ath Party, which had governed Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein until the United States invasion in 2003. Bremer compared the decree to the deNazification of Germany following World War II, stating that “Nazis played the same role in Germany as the Ba’ath in Iraq” but argued that his decree was “much milder” than sanctions imposed in post-war Germany because it did not limit the economic freedom of former party members. Bremer also stated that he was “not imposing anything imperialist […] I’m not proposing we invade [countries], the case of Iraq was separate” and said that “if [the United States] had stayed in Iraq, we would have been imperialists, but we didn’t stay; we left after 14 months.” 

A moment of contention came when Bremer was asked by two different students to cite the source of a poll he had listed in his lecture which stated that only “one third of Americans under the age of thirty believe it is essential to live in a democracy.” A chart verifying this data can be found in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Democracy, which cites data pooled by World Values Surveys. 

Further defining his point on a need for coherent American leadership, Bremer stated that “incoherence, or lack of coherence, comes from a lack of agreement on what America’s role in the world is” and “this is a problem for both parties and both branches of government, executive and legislative.” When asked about the responsibility of the United States to create liberal or democratic countries, Bremer said, “it is in our interest, but I would avoid the word responsibility. It is a case of country by country.” 

President Scott Bierman, Dean of Students Cecil Youngblood, and Provost Eric Boynton were in attendance, as well as local Beloit businesswoman and billionaire Diane Hendricks. Paul Bremer was Young Americans for Freedom’s last scheduled speaker for the Fall 2019 semester.

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